Southwark Playhouse, London
Written by Lyle Kessler
Directed by Paul Tomlinson
Imagine a play that presents itself as a cocktail of (an extreme take on) TV’s Only Fools And Horses with just a twist of Harold Pinter's menace and you start to get close to contemplating the enigma that is Lyle Kessler's Orphans.
Treat and Philip are brothers who (appear to) have grown up rudderless and orphaned in a Philadelphia apartment. Treat is the controlling chancer of the two, a petty criminal (think Del Boy, but with a nasty streak) and who appears to have kept his brother indoors throughput his life. Completely controlled, Philip's only connection with the outside world is through the views from his window and television.
When Treat bungles the kidnap of Harold, a man of impressive stature and murky connections, the interjection of this third man (who quickly escapes the clumsy rope restraints that Treat has tied around him) into the brothers' lives upends their distorted normality.
The drama is skillfully written: often oppressive in never leaving the close confines of the apartment; sometimes threatening; and on occasions, hilarious. The strength of this production however lies in the carefully worked interpretations that the three actors bring.
Alexander Neal's Treat is a brute with issues. Clearly in need of anger management therapy, he has only been able to care for his brother through ultra-control. And yet beneath Treat’s noisy bluster he bears a deep and caring love for his brother. As Philip, Chris Pybus offers perhaps the most nuanced performance of the night. His character is clearly beset with learning difficulties (largely because Treat has denied him all opportunities to learn) and yet Pybus plays him sympathetically, never pandering to cliché.
The heart of this production lies with Mitchell Mullen's wise, weathered and silver haired Harold. Aside from having the only authentic American accent of the three, Mullen brings a curiously compassionate frisson of danger to the proceedings. Much as he easily slips out of Treat's rope ties, so too is he keen to free Philip from his ghastly entrapment. There is a rich worldly wisdom to Harold and Mullen plays the sage old gangster to a tee – one could listen to his yarns all evening.
Another intelligent production from Paul Tomlinson and Dilated Theatre. If you like your theatre served rare but feisty, it’s definitely worth catching.
Runs until 5th March